A national report card on patient safety gave a failing grade to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, one of the country's most prestigious hospitals and one of only 25 nationwide to receive such low marks.
In a report issued Wednesday, the Leapfrog Group, an employer-backed nonprofit group focused on healthcare quality, gave a letter grade of F to UCLA Medical Center for performing poorly on several measures tied to preventing medical errors, patient infections and deaths.
Leapfrog withheld a failing grade for UCLA in June when it released its first-ever hospital safety scores to give low-performing hospitals time to show improvement.
Officials at UCLA disputed the failing grade and they said one patient death in 2010 unfairly lowered its grade from a C to an F under Leapfrog's methodology.
"UCLA is not an F hospital in quality and safety," said Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. "It is not a fair scoring system and it does a disservice to the public."
This debate over UCLA's score comes amid a proliferation of healthcare ratings by outside organizations trying to provide more information to consumers and employers. These scores are also taking on greater importance as some insurers and employers use them as one factor in determining whether a hospital or doctor should be included in a provider network.
Given those stakes, the California Hospital Assn. has called on Leapfrog and other rating organizations to offer more details on how their scores are tabulated and to focus on reliable measures that can assess patient care. Some highly regarded hospitals across the country, such as UCLA, fare well in one ranking and then poorly in the next.
Leapfrog gave an F to one other area hospital, Western Medical Center Anaheim. The hospital said it disagreed with Leapfrog's rating methods and added that it "continuously adds new systems to enhance our patient care."
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center received an A in Leapfrog's June report, but its grade dropped to a C on this latest review, which included more recent data from last year. Thirty Kaiser Permanente hospitals received an A and one got a B from Leapfrog.
Experts urge consumers to use these score cards as one tool in evaluating a hospital and to discuss any specific concerns with their doctor and other medical providers.
Leapfrog estimates that 180,000 Americans die annually from hospital accidents, errors and infections, and it says hospitals need to do more to protect patients from harm. Its hospital safety score is derived from 26 measures of publicly reported data.
Rosenthal said UCLA scores well on healthcare quality and patient outcomes on numerous measures tracked by the federal government and other rating organizations, suggesting that Leapfrog's methods are potentially flawed.
He said a liver transplant patient died during surgery in 2010 from an air embolism, one of several preventable medical errors that Leapfrog and other groups regularly track. Rosenthal said the patient's death was a regrettable mistake, but that error hasn't occurred since then.
Leah Binder, Leapfrog's president and chief executive, said her group's scoring methods are statistically valid and devised by a panel of leading experts in patient safety. She said UCLA scored poorly in several areas of patient care, such as foreign objects left in a patient during surgery and pressure ulcers.
"It isn't just one incident that gave them a score so far below the national average," Binder said. "We see it all the time that a hospital might have a stellar reputation, but behind the scenes they aren't safe for many of their patients."
On pressure ulcers, Rosenthal said, UCLA looked worse than its actual performance because of over-reporting in the hospital billing data that was reviewed by Leapfrog.
Overall, Leapfrog gave an A or B to 1,468 hospitals, or 56% of the 2,618 reviewed nationwide. The group issued a C to 1,004 hospitals, or 38%. At the bottom, 146 hospitals, or 6%, were labeled D or F.
Leapfrog reviewed 246 hospitals in California. The ratings are available online at http://www.hospitalsafetyscore.org.